Judo: Fairbrother's test

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The Independent Online
IT SEEMS that the chairman of the British Judo Association, George Kerr, has gambled correctly on choosing this year to opt for a new venue, the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham in preference to Crystal Palace. Today's British Open Championships boast 450 entrants from 16 countries including a bevy of Olympic medallists, writes Philip Nicksan.

Crystal Palace has been the home of the British Open for more than two decades, but the event was moved to Birmingham because, according to Kerr, 'we wanted to try to do something new - to inject some flair into our most important competition of the year'.

For one day at least, prevailing problems of the industrial dispute involving the two former team managers, Roy Inman and Arthur Mapp, are pushed into the background as some of Britain's finest judo fighters face testing opposition from abroad.

The Olympic lightweight silver medallist, Nicola Fairbrother, faces the highly skilled Japanese Takako Fujiwara; Diane Bell, the former world light-middleweight champion, faces the Olympic silver medallist, Yael Arad of Israel; and Kate Howey, the Olympic middleweight bronze medallist, goes out to try to secure her place in the European team at her new category of light-heavyweight.

Though the foreign men's entry is also strong, the main focus will be on domestic battles. None will be more intense than the contest for the top lightweight place between Danny Kingston, world and European junior bronze medallist and his own training partner, Ian Freeman, the world and European junior featherweight champion who has been forced by nature to move up a category.

For the past five years they have trained together daily at Camberley Judo Club. Today, they will find themselves on opposite sides in the draw for the under-71 kilogram category.